Thursday, July 29, 2010

One-Ingredient Ice Cream

This is quite possibly the coolest thing since sliced bread.  This ice cream is fat-free, dairy-free, and definitely guilt-free.  It doesn't require an ice cream machine - just a blender or food processor.  It's super cheap, super easy, and get this: it's actually good for you.  So what is this one magic ingredient that can turn into ice cream in less than two minutes?

Frozen bananas.

Apparently, when frozen bananas are broken down in a food processor or blender, it becomes treat with the same consistency as soft serve ice cream.  There's no recipe for this - just freeze some bananas (I recommend peeling them first - take it from me, it is rather difficult to peel a frozen banana), cut them into chunks, drop them into a food processor, and press the button.  You may have to scrape down the sides a few time, but it still comes together very quickly.

I'm definitely looking forward to playing around with flavors and mix-ins.  Next time, I might add some peanut butter, Nutella, or melted chocolate to the bananas before creaming them.  I bet it would also taste great with some caramel or Reeses peanut butter cups swirled into them.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some frozen bananas to peel.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Linguine and Shrimp with Macadamia Nut Pesto

"She tried pesto for the first time.  Imagine that, 92 years old, and she never tried pesto.  It was wonderful.  Just wonderful."  -Lucille Bluth, Arrested Development

I was taking a mental inventory of my refrigerator and pantry the other day, trying to think of what I could make for dinner with things I already had on hand.  I thought of all the basil I had in the fridge, and was trying to think of what I could make with it.  Maybe pesto?

And here's where I made my first confession: I have never eaten pesto before.  This certainly isn't for lack of exposure, as my parents made it all the time when I was in high school.  So why didn't I ever try it?  Well, most pesto recipes involve lots of garlic aaaand...

Confession number two: I hate garlic.  Even when it's crushed into tiny little pieces, even when it's soaking in butter and brushed on toasted bread or balls of dough, even when it's slivered into skinny shards and fried in oil and sauteed with spinach, I will not eat it and you can't make me.

But is garlic even integral to the deliciousness of pesto?  I mean, pesto is made with herbs, nuts, olive oil, and occasionally Parmesan, all things that are very flavorful on their own.  Having persuaded myself that I could make a delicious pesto without any garlic, I decided to give it a try.

I used some macadamia nuts that I had brought back from my visit to Hawaii, and a mixture of basil and arugula.  Since I used pre-cooked frozen shrimp and made the pesto while the pasta was cooking, it only took about 15 minutes to get dinner on the table.  The only thing quicker and easier would be to dump a jar of store-bought sauce on the pasta, but really, where's the fun in that?

Linguine and Shrimp with Macadamia Nut Pesto

1/2 pound dried linguine
Handful of frozen baby shrimp, defrosted

2 ounces macadamia nuts
1 cup arugula
1 cup basil
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
3/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Bring a pot of well-salted water to boil and cook the pasta according to the package's directions.

While the water is heating, make the pesto: Pulse the nuts in the food processor until well-ground.  Add the basil, arugula, and parmesan cheese.  Grind until it forms a paste.  Slowly add the olive oil, and pulse until it reaches your desired consistency.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Add the shrimp to the pasta pot in the last 30 seconds, then pour everything into a colander to drain the water.  Transfer the pasta and shrimp back to the pot and toss with the pesto until the pasta and shrimp are completely coated and the pesto is evenly distributed.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Berry Tartlets

When I was in the second grade, the girls in my class would gather together during recess to combine our snackage powers, in hopes that the sum of our snacks would be greater than its parts.  One girl would bring a store-bought graham pie crust (still in its aluminum pan), and the rest of us would empty out our Ziploc bags of goodies - gummi worms, chocolate chip cookies, potato chips, miniature candy bars, etc. - into the pie crust.  We would then divide our snack pie into pieces for a dessert that only a second-grader would love.

What I love about making tarts is that once you have a tart crust, you can use our elementary school technique and still end up with a seriously sophisticated dessert.  Any combination of leftover nuts, chocolate, caramel, shredded coconut, fruit, mousse, pastry cream, and cookie crumbs can be layered into a tart crust for a dessert that's so good, it will make people think you spent all day in the kitchen.  As for me, I used some leftover egg yolks to make a simple vanilla pastry cream, and topped it with fresh summer berries. The combination of the crisp and buttery tart shell, the creamy and cool pastry cream,  and the sweet and tart berries made for a delicious and refreshing dessert, perfect for warm summer nights.

Berry Tarts
(Makes 6 4-inch tarts)

Sweet Tart Dough
Adapted from "Baking: From My Home to Yours"

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
9 tablespoons butter (very cold and cut into small pieces)
1 large egg yolk

Combine flour and powdered sugar in a bowl, stirring to combine.  Cut the butter into the dry ingredients (you can do this with your hands) until the mixture resembles wet sand (the pieces of butter should be no larger than a pea).  Stir the yolk to break it up, and add a little of the time, stirring it in with a spatula until the dough forms clumps and curds.  Knead the dough lightly just to incorporate any dry ingredients.

Divide the dough into six portions.  Press each portion of dough evenly over the bottom and up the sides of a 4-inch tart pan.  You might want to save a little bit of dough to patch any cracks after the crust is baked.  Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes before before baking.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375 degrees Farenheit.  Butter the shiny side of some aluminum foil and fit the foil tightly against each crust, butter side down.  Put the tart pans on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes.  Carefully removie the foil.  If the crusts have puffed, press it down gently with the back of a spoon.  Bake for another 5 minutes until it is firm and golden brown.  Cool the crust to room temperature before filling.

Pastry Cream
Adapted from "Baking: From My Home to Yours"

2 cups whole milk
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup cornstarch, sifted
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits at room temperature

Bring the milk to a boil in a small saucepan.

While the milk is heating, in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk the yolks together with the sugar and cornstarch until thick and well blended.  Still whisking, drizzle in about 1/4 cup of the hot milk (this tempers the eggs, which will prevent them from curdling).  Whisking continuously, slowly pour in the rest of the milk.  Put the pan over medium heat and bring the mixture to a boil, whisking vigorously and continuously, making sure the get into the edges of the pan.  Keep at a boil, still whisking, for 1 - 2 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat.

Whisk in the vanilla extract.  Let sit for 5 minutes, then whisk in the butter, stirring until the butter is fully incorporated and the pastry cream is smooth and silky.  Transfer the cream into a bowl.  Press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the cream (so a "skin" doesn't form) and refrigerate the pastry cream until cold.

Berry Topping

1/2 pint raspberries
1/2 pint blackberries
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons sugar

Gently toss the berries in the lemon juice and sugar, until evenly coated.  Let macerate at room temperature for 30 minutes.

To assemble the tarts:

Coat the inside of each tart with some melted chocolate - this will prevent the crust from getting soggy.  Let the chocolate harden.  Spoon some pastry cream into each tart and gently spread it to the edges.  Top each tart with berries.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Yellow Birthday Cake

Last month, my nephew asked me to make a birthday cake for him.  He didn't care what flavor it was, but was very specific as to how if should be decorated.

So here is his cake, with Mickey and Minnie and lollipops and butterflies and gummies.  I'm pretty proud of my Mickey and Minnie, considering that art has always been my second-worst subject in school (after P.E.)  I made two layers of a basic 9 x 13 yellow cake, filled it with chocolate mousse, and covered and decorated it with buttercream frosting.  Mickey and Minnie were made with Rice Krispie Treats - I printed out pictures of them to trace out their silhouettes in the treats.  I decorated them with melted chocolate and royal icing (basically just powdered sugar and milk).

Yellow Cake (I doubled this recipe to make two layers)
Adapted from Baking Bites

2 ½ cups cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 ½ cups sugar
½ cup butter, softened
3 eggs
1 cup milk
2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease a 9×13 inch sheet pan.

Sift cake flour, baking powder and salt into a large bowl. Add sugar and mix on low speed to blend. Cut butter into 4 or 5 chunks and drop into the bowl with the flour. Mix on low speed until mixture looks sandy and no large chunks of butter remain, 1-2 minutes.

In a large measuring cup, combine eggs, milk and vanilla. Beat lightly with a fork until combined. With the mixer on low, pour 1 cup of the egg mixture into the bowl. Turn speed up to medium and beat for 1 ½ minutes. Reduce speed back to low and pour in the rest of the egg mixture. Continue to beat at low speed for an additional 30 seconds, until liquid is fully incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat for a few more seconds, if necessary.

Pour into prepared 9×13 pan and spread batter evenly with a spatula. Tap gently a few times to eliminate any bubbles.

Bake at 350F for 30-35 minutes, until a tooth pick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Let cool for 30 minutes in the pan before turning out onto a rack to cool completely.

Buttercream Frosting
Adapted from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking

1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, soft but cool, cut into small pieces
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

In a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk the sugar and flour together.  Add the milk and cream and cook over medium heat, whisking occasionally, until the mixture comes to a boil and has thickened, about 20 minutes.

Transfer the mixture to a large glass or metal bowl.  Beat on high speed with an electric mixer until cool.  Reduce the speed to low and add the butter.  Beat until thoroughly incorporated.  Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy.

Add the vanilla and continue mixing until combined.  If the frosting is too soft, transfer the bowl the the fridge to chill slightly, then beat again until it is the proper consistency.  If the frosting is too firm, place the bowl over a pot of simmering water and beat with a wooden spoon until it is the proper consistency.

To assemble the cake:

Using a cake leveler or long serrated knife, level the top of the cakes.  On one layer, spread a thick layer of chocolate mousse.  Place the other cake layer on top.  Spread a thin layer of frosting over the top and sides of the cake - this is your crumb coat.  Refrigerate the cake for 30 minutes.  Spread another layer of frosting on the cake.  Decorate as desired.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Chocolate Mousse

I've never really been much of a chocolate mousse fan.  It always seemed bland, boring, and insubstantial to me, something I'd most often see at the dessert line at cheap dinner buffets.

But the chocolate mousse I've been acquainted with must have been melted chocolate mixed with Cool Whip, or something, because the chocolate mousse I made last week?  It was heavenly.  I was licking my spatula, my bowl, my fingers, anything that had come in contact with the chocolate mousse and moaning, "Mmmmn, this is so good.  David, you have to try this - it's the best chocolate mousse I've ever eaten," which was rather unbecoming considering that I was the one who made it.  Humility FAIL.

The recipe calls for fine-quality bittersweet chocolate, but since this mousse was for the under-10 crowd, I used semisweet chocolate chips.  You'll also need a candy or instant-read thermometer - the mousse base needs to reach a temperature high enough to cook the egg yolks, but not so high as to curdle the egg yolks.

I used this to fill a birthday cake for my nephew.  I'll post the cake recipe when I get the pictures from my sister-in-law; until then, here's the recipe for the mousse.

Chocolate Mousse
Adapted from Gourmet, December 2002

2 cups heavy cream, chilled
4 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
7 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped (or semisweet chocolate chips)

Heat 3/4 cup cream in a heavy saucepan until hot. Whisk together yolks, sugar, and a pinch of salt in a metal bowl until combined well, then add hot cream in a slow stream, whisking until combined. Transfer mixture to saucepan and cook over moderately low heat, stirring constantly, until it registers 160°F on a candy  thermometer. Pour custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl and stir in vanilla.

Melt chocolate in a double boiler or a metal bowl set over a pan of simmering water (or in a glass bowl in a microwave at 50 percent power 3 to 5 minutes), stirring frequently. Whisk custard into chocolate until smooth, then cool.

Beat remaining 1 1/4 cups cream in a bowl with an electric mixer until it holds stiff peaks. Whisk one fourth of cream into chocolate custard to lighten it, then fold in remaining cream gently but thoroughly.

Spoon mousse into a bowl and chill, covered, at least 6 hours. If you want a pretty presentation, you can spoon it into wine glasses or ramekins instead of a bowl.  Let stand at room temperature about 20 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Carrot Coconut Ginger Soup

One thing that David and I like to do together is go on walks.  Unfortunately for David, we live in an urban area, and he usually has to stop and wait every 20 feet so that I can peruse the menus that restaurants post outside their doors.  

On our recent trip to Kauai, we decided to stroll along the "historic" main road in Hanapepe (which, by the way, makes an appearance in Lilo and Stitch)  and visit the art galleries and souvenir shops (one of them had a collection of children's books written by my old pediatrician - neat!).  We only passed by one restaurant, but their menu was filled with dishes that I really wanted to try.  The dish that stood out to me the most was Carrot Coconut Lemongrass Soup.  We unfortunately didn't have time to go in and eat (plus, the weather was way too hot and humid for soup) so I made a mental note to try it the next time we visit.

When we returned to San Diego on Friday, I was bummed to see that June Gloom had extended into July.  I really wanted my Fourth of July weekend to be filled with sunshine.  I wanted to wear tank tops and shorts and get popsicles from the neighborhood ice cream truck.  Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate.

On the bright side, I had the perfect opportunity to try making the soup that I had missed out on!  I couldn't find lemongrass, so I decided to make it with ginger instead.  The soup was super delicious.  There was a lot of sweetness from the carrots and sweet potato, which brought out the flavor of the coconut milk, but the sweetness was balanced with the saltiness of the broth and the spicy kick of the ginger (gingery-spicy, not mouth-heat-spicy, if that makes sense).  David isn't much of a soup fan, but he really enjoyed this soup (or he at least claimed to).

Carrot Coconut Ginger Soup
2 tablespoons ginger, sliced thinly
2 cups sliced carrots (about 1/4 inch thick)
1 medium sweet potato (cut into small cubes)
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
3/4 cup coconut milk
1/4 teaspoon garlic salt
salt and pepper to taste

Saute ginger in 1 tablespoon of broth in a medium soup pot for one minute, or until ginger is soft.  Add carrots, sweet potato, and the rest of the broth.  Simmer on medium high heat until the vegetables are tender (about 15-20 minutes).  Add coconut milk and stir.  Transfer the soup to a large bowl and let cool.  Set the pot aside - you're still going to need it.  When the soup has cooled, blend it in batches (don't fill more than 1/4 of the blender) until silky smooth.  Transfer back to the soup pot and reheat.  Add salt and pepper until the soup is to your liking.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Lemony Fourth of July Cake with Coconut Buttercream Frosting

My mom usually makes a flag cake every Fourth of July.  You know, the quintessential 9x13 cake rectangle with blueberries in one corner and slices of strawberries forming neat stripes across the rest of the cake.    And while I have nothing against those berry flag cakes, I did want to try something different to bring to our Fourth of July barbecue with our friends. 

I got the cake design from 17 and Baking - I had seen this cake on the website last year, and have been itching to make it ever since.  The cake is a lemon white cake - I used only egg whites so that the white layers wouldn't look yellow and so the blue and red colors would come through bright and clear.  The cake is very moist, tender and delicious - my only complaint is that I had trouble cutting and layering the cakes.  If I could do it over, I would probably use a sturdier cake, like Dorie Greenspan's Perfect Party Cake.  I used concentrated gel coloring to dye the cake batter - you'll need a lot to make the colors bright.  I used a little more than a quarter teaspoon.  One more thing: the frosting is very sweet.  Because I was already making a time-consuming and relatively complicated cake, I made a basic buttercream frosting.  It's very quick and easy to make, but it relies on powdered sugar to make it thick, which unfortunately also makes it very sweet.  Lucky for me, my husband is of the opinion that, "There is no such thing as too-sweet frosting."

(Thanks to Naree for taking pictures!)

Lemony White Cake

3 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 1/4 cup sugar
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 teaspoons lemon zest
9 large egg whites
1 cup milk

Red and blue food coloring (I used Wilton's icing colors)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease three 9-inch round cake pans and line the bottom with wax paper.

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.  Mix well.  In another bowl, whisk milk and egg whites until combined (don't use an electric mixer).

Cream butter and sugar on medium speed until soft and fluffy.  Beat in vanilla and lemon zest.  Reduce speed to low, and beat in 1/4 of the flour mixture, then 1/3 of the milk mixture in alternating batches, ending with the last of the flour mixture.  Scrape down the bowl and beaters after each addition.  When batter is combined, transfer 1/3 of the cake batter directly into the cake pan.  Transfer 1/3 of the cake batter to another bowl and dye it blue.  Dye the remaining cake batter red.  Pour the dyed batter into their pans. 

Bake for 30-35 minutes.  Cool layers for 5 minutes, then unmold to finish cooling right side up.  While cooling, make the frosting:

Coconut Buttercream Frosting

1 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup coconut milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
7 - 8 cups powdered sugar

Beat the butter until light and fluffy.  Beat in 1/2 cup of the powdered sugar.  When smooth, add the coconut milk, vanilla extract, and 1 cup of powdered sugar.  Beat until smooth.  Slowly add the rest of the powdered sugar, until the frosting reaches your desired consistency.

To assemble the cake:
(It's a bit difficult to explain in words, so if this doesn't make sense, check out this video of Elissa from 17 and Baking.  She does a great job of explaining everything.)

When the cake layers have cooled, level the top of each cake layer.  Split the red and white layers into two layers.  Do not split the blue layer.  Set one layer of each the red and white cake on top of the blue cake.  Using a bowl or stencil, cut a circle into the three layers of cake.  You want the outer ring to be about 2 inches wide.  Save the outer ring of the blue cake and the inner circles of the red and white cake - the rest are scraps.

Set the large white cake circle on your cake stand/serving surface.  Surround the cake with scraps of wax paper, sticking it a little under the cake.  Spread a thin layer of frosting on the top of both the large and small white cake circles, spreading it all the way to the edges.  Set the large red cake circle on top of the large white cake circle, and the small red cake on the small white cake.  Spread another layer of frosting on the large red cake layer.  Set the blue cake ring on top of the large cake layers.  Frost the inside of the ring.  Set the small cake layers inside the blue cake ring.

Frost the entire cake with a thin layer of frosting.  This is your crumb coat, so it's okay if crumbs get caught in the frosting.  Just make sure that every part of the cake is covered, so that crumbs don't get in your final coat.  Chill the cake in the refrigerator for a half hour.  Frost the cake again with its final coat of frosting.  Slip out the pieces of wax paper for a clean presentation.